A sermon for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday After Pentecost, November 14, 2021
Today, we come to the end.
Not the end of Jesus’ ministry.
Not the end of Jesus’ life even, the life that will be sacrificed for us, for our eternal salvation, for the promise to be fulfilled that we will be with God, forever.
Instead we get a picture of the beginning of the end of creation.
Today’s sharing by Christ is not as elaborate or specific as his post-resurrection sharings will be, and especially not as extravagantly detailed as John’s Revelation will paint the picture, but it is the initial warning that the end will come.
It is a warning that this creation is not permanent.
That not one stone will be left, ALL of them will be torn down, thrown down, discarded, forgotten.
We have Christ here, with the disciples, at what they are assuming is the dawn of a new age.
And Christ tells them that yes, a new age is coming, but not in the way they can fathom or understand.
Jesus lists out a number of things that we understand, can easily pinpoint to in history as prime examples, and calls them only the beginnings of the birth pangs.
This is because God’s time is not our time.
Whether it is over thousands of years or just one, God’s time is not our time.
So, as we read the scripture stories, we know and have faith that Jesus is to come again.
And, we must understand that in the concept of a coming kingdom of God, that what Jesus tells us today, what the prophets have told us, what the Revelation tells us, must be put within the context of understanding that God’s time is not our time.
The disciples did not understand this initially.
The apostle Paul did not understand this initially.
They were preparing their followers for the imminent arrival of Jesus Christ to walk amongst them once again, to establish his kingdom, God’s kingdom amongst creation for the rest of time. All within the span of their lifetimes, all within a generation of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
But that wasn’t God’s time.
And so time began to pass, the church that follows Jesus grew in followers, the free will of flawed human beings corrupted that church, over and over again, while still others built up that church towards a more just and equal expression of faith, and eventually we arrive to today.
Today, where we find ourselves as the people of St. Stephen’s engaging in the call to plant a new church into being. A new church that dares to dream the vision promised. A new church that responds to the needs of what is happening right here, right now in our community of believers and the community around us. A call that challenges us to live into the moment and into a vision of the future, even as we reflect on a tradition and history of being the Episcopal Church here at this physical location for 91 years.
And in this wrestling of the past and present, we must be reminded as we are today that God’s time is not our time.
We get so wrapped up in what happens in the span of our own specific, finite lifetime because it is the only life that we are blessed to live. And in that reality, we sometimes forget that there has been 2000 years of history of following Christ leading up to today that allows us to wrestle with our past and our present as we turn our focus to our future.
We turn to the scriptures and try to see the end of times as happening today, now, to justify our actions, or sometimes our inactions, because what does it mean in the alternative, what does it mean for our faith for these birth pangs to continue well past our time in this creation?
What does it mean for us to live a faith that builds up, knowing that we will never see the conclusion of that project?
We are called today to simply accept that God’s time is not our time and revel in the time that we have been given to be on this creation, with one another, and in thanking God for this gift we call life, work to bring about God’s kingdom on this creation, little by little, bit by bit, knowing that we, solo, by ourselves, in our one life, cannot accomplish that task, but together, through time, we as followers of the way can make this reality come to fruition.
A prime example of this communal, time-expansive work for the betterment of creation is the global climate change crisis that continues to be inadequately addressed even as a global conference to address it wrapped up once more this past week. We get wrapped up in the effort to fix it all by ourselves, immediately, that we forget that what we are actually called to do is to make the needed changes so that those who will come next are not left with an impossible crisis to address. We aren’t called to immediate success, and lacking that success wallow in our failure and give up on all hope. We are called to immediate change that will bring about that success over time through our collective efforts as one concerned and unified humanity.
We were called this year in our stewardship campaign to think about planting a new church into being, one of faith, love, and praise. We sang the song that inspired this campaign, ending each time with the final verse:
“Draw together at one table
All the human family;
Shape a circle ever wider
And a people ever free.”
This is the call of kingdom building. Building a table that forms in unity, a circle growing ever wider, removing barriers, boundaries, removing the systemic roadblocks of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and beyond. This is the work of kingdom building that takes generations working together to see this realized. To start with the biggest possible circle we can muster, and knowing that through answering our call to follow Jesus, to follow the way of love, this starting circle will be the smallest circle we will ever sit at.
When the whole human family, when all of creation can draw together at one table, we will have brought the kingdom of God to creation.
And, this work will take time.
It will take our time.
It will take the time of those saints that have gone before and those saints yet to come.
God’s time is not our time.
When we accept this, we come to understand that Jesus’ words today ring true. The beginnings of the birth pangs. A great labor that for us will span millenia, but for God has already occured, is yet to occur, is in the process of occurring through us today, for God’s time is not our time, and when we accept this reality and live into it in our faith, we can bring forth new-ness in this world, for we are not crippled by the fear of what might come to pass, we actively work for the future we hope may one day come to pass.
We are strengthened, emboldened even to engage in this work because we know that Christ is with us. Christ himself, existing in a moment of time, has proven to be timeless himself. Speaking to us from 2000 years ago, Christ continues to teach us, form us, stand with us, as we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the holy scriptures so that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life.
God’s time may not be our time, but our time is a blessing, a time of hope and faith, a time of love and learning, a time to be with one another, to lift up one another, to celebrate our time together, and to build the kingdom of God stone by stone.
“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Amen.